Of Near and Far

by R. G. G. PRICE

Readers will recall R. G. G. PRICE as a thin man who failed to realize that he had become fat (July, 1955, Atlantic). He lives in Sussex and has contributed much light writing and literary criticism to Punch.

HAVING reached the stage of maturity at which my long and short vision require different lenses, I have had to give up the all-purpose spectacles in which I have lived so happily for so long and take to two separate pairs. (For one reason or another, ingenious devices like bifocals are unsuitable.) My life has suddenly been complicated by one more benefit from science’s loony cornucopia. It is not that I keep leaving a pair here and there about the home; I clutch the case the whole time in my hand. It is deciding when to change over that I find hard.

Obviously I read books through my reading glasses and admire views through my distance glasses; but what about food? The more difficult branches of food, like the sort of fish that gets its bones folded inside, need at least as close vision as philosophy or poetry. This means I ignore the other diners. Though at home my loved ones would much rather look hazy round the edges to me than nurse me through a fishbone in the throat, when we go out to dinner my hosts and fellow guests will pretty soon realize that I am concentrating on the food rather than them. If I keep changing, now the reading pair for a quick peck, now the distance pair lor an exchange of meaning looks with the lady opposite, restlessness will spread round the table.

Sometimes, of course, a quick look through the short-range glasses will discover something like soup or jelly that does not require inspection before each mouthful is taken. I can change back at once to the longrange pair and keep them on until the end of the course. This will not work with birds or the kind of complicated pie in which the hostess likes to see every layer appreciated.

How am I going to manage for interviews? Interviews need facts and, unless you have a better-ordered mind than mine, facts live on paper. Do I look at my documents through the reading lenses and then change over to deliver my figures straight at my opponent’s eye? While I am fumbling (and there is a flexible bit round my ear that is still getting folded in the lobe), I shall lose pace and my opponent will be moving into the attack. Do I retain the reading glasses the whole time and try to bluff him that my level gaze is piercing into his soul? If so, I shall miss those fleeting signs by which the observant detect weakness. Once he realizes that though his upper lip is beaded with sweat I haven’t noticed a thing, he has me beaten.

I dare not keep the distance pair on the whole time and trust to memory or improvisation. The two faculties are so inextricably confused in me that it would not be safe. I shall have to give up interviews.

I am not sure whether it is simply less easy to read when I wear my long-range glasses or whether it is definitely harmful. If it. is, I shall have to shut my eyes tight when passing advertisements out of doors. This might wreck lives. Imagine some gO-ahead firm checking on how its advertising impressed the man in the street. It might be reported that the effect was to cause violent repulsion in at least one potential customer. If it was one of those firms that pride themselves on their efficiency and judge their efficiency by their readiness to sack, the man responsible for the advertisement might lose his job and the responsibility would be on me.

I have always tended to grow like my appearance very quickly. Put me in a graduate’s gown and I feel scholarly. Put me in a white tie and tails and I feel I might have rivaled Fred Astaire if I had started earlier. In my reading glasses I feel intellectually incisive but socially ineffectual, perhaps a bit too clever for the lighter side of communal living but a man to whom all the best that has been thought and said is not all that good when he gets down to checking on it. 1 put on the distance pair and I become perfectly adapted to the complexities of the contemporary world. 1 am the kind of passer-by to whom agitated bank tellers explain that the manager is lying indoors with bullets in him. I look forcefully in all directions, until stopped by the horizon or a wall. I rather think I should be pretty keen-eyed when faced with birds, but unfortunately during my many years as a one-pair man I never saw birds clearly enough to get to know their names. I might even begin recognizing people in the street. In time, rapid changes from one picture of myself to the other may begin to shake my personality-cohesion loose. The word “schizophrenia,” if vieux jeu, seems appropriate to my final state.

I find life is even more puzzling than usual when I forget which pair I am wearing. I wander in from a walk and pick up a book. I can read it after a fashion but it is badly printed and the author does not hold my attention. If I have to write a review of it, I rate its interest low.

Or it may be that I have been reading and my wife calls me to go shopping with her. I look at the streets of our little town through my reading lenses and I find a lack of the clarity and brightness that I had remembered. The people look dull, almost decomposing. There seem to be small miasmas round the buildings at the further corner. I wonder whether it is healthy to go on living here. Or else I wonder whether I can have a hangover and how I have managed it. I stand musing on the sidewalk and get buffeted by shapes. I feel that once more Life has found flaws in me.

1 know well enough that sooner or later the glasses will be smoothly incorporated into my existence. I shall get no regular worry from them but I shall get no stimulus either. The novelty will wear off until they are as absorbed into my environment as my watch. Just at the moment, though, they are keeping me as young as pets.